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I have to travel a lot.  It’s an inevitability of living nowhere near anything of interest.  Friends, family, conventions, and travel in general – all require methods of transport.

Now my favourite method of travel is by far the plane.  But when you’re travelling in the UK on a budget, that’s difficult – when I was sourcing flights from Scotland to Southampton, I was quoted £400 for direct flights – I can fly to another country for less moolah than that.  So there’s only one other feasible option – the train.  Specifically for getting down?  The Caledonian sleeper.

Now I’m short enough that if I’m willing to gamble on it being quiet and getting 2 seats together, I can get a tolerable night’s sleep in a chair.  But if I can, and book early enough in advance, I go for a berth.  Getting a bed, sink and (nearly) private room is worth a little extra cash.  And since I have a rail pass, the tickets aren’t too expensive overall.

With Minamicon, the flights were clearly pricing me out, and after my suitcase went missing last time, I wasn’t sure I actually trusted them to get it right.  Instead I went by sleeper train with plans to connect from London, knowing I’d be travelling during the day on the way back, but accepting that as a price I’d have to pay.

Had a great night’s sleep – to the point I actually slept in.  Woke up and frantically got dressed expecting to roll into the station any minute…then realised we weren’t moving.  The reason I slept so soundly?  The electrical lines had fallen and we were trapped a good hour and 15 minutes from London.  So cue our train being stuck at Nuneaton station for the better part of 2 hours – unsure of when, or even if, we’d move.

Certainly looks bad enough to shut down half of England…

To be fair, this is the first time I’ve ever had a problem on the sleepers.  And most other people were the same.  The one great thing about the British and the inevitable delays/disasters is it’s the only thing that makes us sociable.  We all gathered around doors and huddled in the lounge car to discuss what was happening and where everyone was trying to be.  One poor woman in our carriage was desperately trying to get to a meeting for 11, and that was looking less and less likely by the minute.  I just kept my eye on the twitter feed (finding independent passenger tweets far more informative than the official ones) and chatting to my fellow strandees.  Ended up having 2 biologist/biochemists sitting next to me discussing their work – small world.

After an hour the conductor said food would be complimentary too, so we all got a poor-but-solid breakfast.  I’d been planning on buying milk for my shake, but was so hungry I had an all day breakfast sandwich instead.  It was just a little bit foul but still better for me than the cheeseburger the man beside me had.  Just wish they hadn’t put mayonnaise on it – how is that part of breakfast?

Will give the train service some credit though.  Our conductor, George, was the pinnacle of professionalism – never lost his temper (despite many angry passengers), was always honest about the situation, got us free food and would happily find out ways for us to try and get where we needed to go.  Although he did warn anyone getting off that he’s always found the best option is to stay on the train.

There were buses coming in – but everywhere was after them so we only had one bus coming – which would only fit about half of us.  For the woman with the meeting, she felt she couldn’t risk it and found a train that might get her where she needed to go.  Sadly, not 10 minutes after she’d disembarked, we were told we’d be leaving in 20 minutes – would have gotten there in time.  A gamble she probably felt she had to take though.

Train did set off as promised, and we all got compensation forms to fill in.  I’ve grabbed the conductors name to make sure upper management know he did a great job – too many times staff don’t get credit for doing the best they can in a situation out with their control.  Sadly, in a far more sleep deprived state on Sunday, I threw away my old tickets while packing my bag – so I have no idea if I can actually claim compensation now.

Very glad I got a sleeper berth for that trip though – going through this from a seat would have been hell.  As it was, I got through the situation feeling somewhat grumpy but otherwise in a good mood.  Then I hit London.

I knew I had to go on the underground to get to the right station, but I was having trouble finding the right route on the map so asked a member of staff where I needed to go.  I wanted to get to Waterloo to catch a train to Southampton, and he immediately said that I had it wrong, and if I wanted to go to Southampton I needed to go via Victoria.  I’m positive the National Rail website had said Waterloo, but he’s local and works on the underground, so I take his word for it and go to Victoria.  Discover there is a train to Southampton from Victoria, but it takes nearly twice as long as I was expecting.  I go to the enquiries desk, and guess what.  Waterloo also has a train to Southampton that is almost direct, and half the time.  So I have to fork out even more cash to get to the station I wanted to go to in the first place, and by the time I get there I’ve missed the next train – and end up another hour late.  These problems and delays ended up making me about 3 hours late, and got to the con about 30 minutes before it started up, in a very miserable mood.

So what have I learned?  Sleeper trains and their staff are tolerable, and you should never ever trust a London local over your instincts.  A lesson I had hammered in on the way back when a member of staff told me I couldn’t get to Kings Cross via the Northern line and I should take Bakerloo.  As far as the maps show you can, but at least this information didn’t cost me anything extra.

Coming back?  Was on an East Coast train, which meant plug sockets, and that I could process video footage from Minami on the way back.  Which made a 1400-2130 long train ride bearable!

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